BLUE SPRINGS, Mo.–Curbside leaf and brush removal dates will be here before we know it. If you dread filling sacks with fallen leaves, a University of Missouri Extension horticulturist suggests a less agonizing and more rewarding alternative.

“The carbon content of fallen leaves is a perfect pairing for the nitrogen content of annual landscape plants in the compost bin,” says Marlin Bates.

However, it’s unlikely that the proportion of fallen leaves to compostable plant material will result in the recommended 30-to-1 carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for compost piles, he noted.

“Since fallen leaves have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of about 50-to-1 and freshly uprooted green plants come in around 20-to-1 on average, a good approach is to add twice as much plant material as leaves to the compost bin,” he said. “This will come close to the recommended ratio and allow for contributions from the kitchen compost pail.”

Because adding fallen leaves and garden plants in layers will allow for better decomposition, Bates recommends collecting those leaves frequently as they fall.

“This will result in several small contributions of leaf material to the bin—a better option than dealing with a lump sum of leaves at the end of the season,” he said. “Couple this with regular culling of unproductive or fading garden plants and you’ll be able to contribute the appropriate ratio of each to the compost pile every week and make end-of-the-season cleanup in the yard and garden easier.”

If you have more leaves than the compost pile can take, that probably means that you have a lot of shade on your landscape. “Heavily shaded areas where turf is difficult to establish may best be converted to a ‘forest floor’ landscape where leaves are allowed to aggregate among shade-tolerant perennial plants, or surplus leaves can be spread directly onto the vegetable garden to decompose over winter,” he said.

Bates said there is one other important item you should add to the pile: a compost thermometer. “These devices are longer than a typical thermometer and usually have ranges of temperatures highlighted to let you know if the pile is actively composting or not. There may be no better way to ensure that your composting efforts are paying off.”

More information about composting is available in these MU Extension publications, which are available for free download:

-“Making and Using Compost” (G6956),

-“How to Build a Compost Bin” (G6957),

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